Tuesday, March 29, 2016

James Patterson, and popular fiction as a gateway drug

“People already read James Patterson’s books — and in staggering numbers. Last year, he and his team of writers had 36 books land on the New York Times best-seller list. To date, he has published 156 books that have sold more than 325 million copies worldwide.  
But Mr. Patterson is after an even bigger audience. He wants to sell books to people who have abandoned reading for television, video games, movies and social media.  
So how do you sell books to somebody who doesn’t normally read? 
Mr. Patterson’s plan: make them shorter, cheaper, more plot-driven and more widely available.  
In June, Mr. Patterson will test that idea with BookShots, a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting. Mr. Patterson will write some of the books himself, write some with others, and hand pick the rest. He aims to release two to four books a month through Little, Brown, his publisher. All of the titles will be shorter than 150 pages, the length of a novella.  
Mr. Patterson said the books would be aimed at readers who might not want to invest their time in a 300- or 400-page novel. And he hopes they might even appeal to people who do not normally read at all. If it works, it could open up a big new market: According to a Pew Research Center survey released last fall, 27 percent of American adults said they had not read a book in the past year.”

I know many avid readers, and many writers, who disdain James Patterson.

Even Stephen King has gotten in on the great James Patterson trashing campaign, dismissing Patterson as an author of “dopey thrillers”.

Patterson openly admits that he doesn't write highfalutin literature. Truth be told, his stories tend to be simplistic even when compared to the work of genre writers like Stephen Hunter and Michael Connelly.

But have you seen the latest film starring Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, or Jet Li? Patterson grasps that in a world of short-attention spans driven by video culture, there is a market for novels that mimic the depth and pacing of the film industry.

James Patterson is an astute marketer. His BookShots concept might lure in some folks who’ve already exhausted NetFlix, videogames, and ESPN, and say to themselves, “Hey, remember books…?”

Face it: There are millions of Americans who are never going to read a Jonathan Franzen or Joyce Carol Oates novel. But they might read a fast-moving novella that contains lots of action—just like the movies.

Also, popular fiction often functions as a gateway drug. I was 15 years old when I picked up a tattered copy of ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King’s 1975 vampire novel). I had read for pleasure as a child, but as a teenager I was obsessed with sports, rock music, and girls. And girls. 

(Puberty was a particularly tortuous period for me. At 47, though, I do see light at the end of the tunnel. But I digress…)

Guess what happened: ‘Salem’s Lot blew me away, and sparked my adult addiction to reading—and writing.

For a few years I read only Stephen King novels (he had an extensive backlist even then). But I soon moved on to other books, including more sophisticated fiction and nonfiction.

In reading, as in other endeavors, you’ve got to start somewhere.